CPS Witness Summons (Jan 16)

Date of publication
19 January 2016
Crown Prosecution Service
CPS Region
England and Wales
Inspection type
CPS Themed Reports

Fewer and fewer witnesses are attending court, often resulting in a trial that has to be rescheduled, or even in the defendant being acquitted. There are a number of ways to get witnesses to give evidence in court, including a witness summons, but this should be the last resort and only considered when all other approaches have been exhausted.

Inspectors from HMCPSI examined 120 cases from 6 CPS Areas to find out whether the CPS is using witness summonses correctly – either applying the procedures correctly, or in using it at all, considering whether it was in the interests of the witness (who might also be the victim) and justice.

Inspectors found that although the CPS was complying well with the general rules on applying for a summons, there was little evidence that their increased use has improved the number of witnesses turning up at court. They also found that reasons for applying for a summons are not consistently recorded, and that there was no means to monitor for trends such as the numbers of summons requested, issued and served and whether these resulted in successful outcomes, nor monitoring of age, gender, ethnicity, and the victim’s or witness’s relationship to the defendant.

If a witness doesn’t turn up at court having been summonsed, the court can decide to issue a warrant for their arrest. Before taking this approach, prosecutors need to make sure the summons is applied for early enough that it can be served on time, and that the witness received the travel costs and expenses they were entitled to. Inspectors found that in only two thirds of cases was the summons issued in time for the police to serve it on the witness before the trial date, and there was not enough consistency across the country in providing the travel costs and expenses.

CPS Witness Summons Report (Jan 16) (382 kB)
CPS Witness Summons Summary (Jan 16) (97 kB)